Understanding and Managing Risks Associated with Social Media In Hospitality Industry

“Communication is here to stay.” Can anyone dispute such a statement? Social media is here to stay too, and every business in the hospitality industry must pay attention.

Social media is just a new category of communication tools that have fundamentally and permanently shifted the way people and businesses interact. Social media tools are constantly changing and allow for an instantaneous, continuous dialogue that, in many cases, is visible to the entire world.

With social media playing such a key role in the way our prospects, customers, and employees obtain, organize, and distribute information, businesses need to embrace this change and capitalize on it; ignoring the communication evolution is not an option.

At a high level, the four greatest risks to your business with regards to social media are:

  1. Neglecting to create a formal strategy and approach
  2. Spreading your efforts and resources too thin across too many media outlets
  3. Failing to train and educate employees
  4. Remaining vulnerable to attacks or internal (oftentimes accidental) communication disasters

If you are in the hospitality business and aren’t aware of how your customers, employees, and competitors are representing your brand, then they are the voice for the company. Your traditional brand and marketing efforts are left to the mercy of the crowd.

Here is a simple framework for you and your business to begin the process of adopting and leveraging social media as an asset for your company, as well as guidance and best practices to effectively mitigate the risks and the potential downside of these new tools.

Audit your Social Assets

Before your company creates a formalized approach to embracing social media, it is critical that an assessment of your entire social footprint be conducted. It’s often the case that your social media presence is much bigger than you think (from employee profiles on the professional networking site LinkedIn to customer reviews on Yelp and everything in-between).

You need to look at your main company web page and its social connectors (e.g., links to Facebook), any company blogs, Tripadvisor Page, Instagram Accounts, Facebook Pages or Twitter handles you may have (active or not!), as well as what your competitive set may be doing. By reviewing and inventorying your current web assets, you can expect to find gaps, opportunities, risks, and your “lowest hanging fruit”.

Two effective and free tools to help you do your inventory are screen capture software for your web browser (ScreenGrab) and social media monitoring systems like HowSociable. This exercise will serve as your foundation for setting goals, policy, training programs and ultimately tracking your progress towards achieving your businesses real-world strategic goals.

Setting Goals – Focus on the Lowest Hanging Fruit

What are your current strategic business objectives? Your social media initiatives should be coordinated and aligned to help you meet and exceed them.

For example, if you are a hotel owner/executive and a goal is to increase top-line revenue with the group and corporate business, you should optimize your sales force to use social media to find new leads, bypass gatekeepers, and leverage existing relationships to close deals.

If you seek brand awareness in untapped markets, you may want to create a blog that generates thought leadership and supports SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts for marketing. Maybe you want to decrease 3rd party spend on talent acquisition. In this case, you should look for ways to use social media for recruiting purposes.

What are your biggest roadblocks to meeting your real-world goals? Ask yourself how social media can help overcome those challenges. For many hospitality organizations that rely on “group and events” business, the challenge may be getting busy with corporate meeting planners on property. Have you considered leveraging free content sharing sites like YouTube and SlideShare to create a 24/7 virtual “site visit” for them?

A quick video or slide presentation displaying pictures of your hotel lobby, rooms, meeting space, and client testimonials will help! Take it one step further by embedding those content streams into the LinkedIn profiles of your sales managers. Social media is a blue ocean of opportunity for you to solve traditional business problems like this.

So where is the lowest hanging fruit for social media in your organization? How can you augment your time-tested and highly successful business processes with social media?

Don’t Become a Victim of Social Media Sprawl

All too often companies are creating totally new social media processes with no “end goal” in mind. Remember the tools may be “free” but your time is not. Having more Facebook fans than your competition might be nice, but where is the real return on your investment? Have you just created a back-door for customer feedback and are you properly staffed to support it – even on the weekends?

Have your current social media campaigns improved your top line or hurt it? Don’t be fooled by gimmicky social media marketing campaigns or deal-a-day sites that really are just dumping discounted rooms and services at the last minute to transient guests who may never actually come back. There are great business cases to deploy some of these tools and techniques. Just make sure you aren’t using them just because the competition is. There is a high probability chance they don’t know what they are doing!

Developing a Social Media Policy – “Common Sense” Does Not Apply

Whether your company fully engages in social media or not, it is critical that you develop a custom-tailored social media policy that reflects your company culture, defines best practices, and explicitly outlines any necessary protocols. At a high level, a good social media policy should proactively mitigate risk and empower your employees to use social media in a way that helps them meet their individual goals as well as the strategic business objectives of your organization. Other considerations for your policy to address include:

Appropriate usage for different business functions (e.g., group sales managers will have a different set of best practices on how to pursue new business vs. how your customer service team may use social media to reward loyal fans and handle service issues)

When you create your policy, you should understand that it will need to be updated regularly. Industry best practice calls for quarterly updates.

At their core, the majority of current corporate social media policies are predicated on the idea that employees should just use “common sense.” Unfortunately, common sense does not apply online!

If your existing social media policy is just a two-page template that you found online (e.g., on Google) and you simply added your company name to the document, then you should know that you are leaving your people and your brand exposed to potential risk in the form of lawsuits and PR disasters. This is because most publicly available templates are inadequate.

Social media passwords should be changed quarterly, and management should always have access to those passwords.
Finally, with regards to developing the foundation for your policy, you need to be prepared for social media “crisis response”. Social media disasters can come from anywhere: a disgruntled employee, a dissatisfied customer, a competitor, or just pranksters with nothing better to do.

Without a clear disaster response framework in place, your brand can quickly become victim to the viral web, and everything you have worked for maybe at stake. Remember, in the social media world: minutes matter. Countless companies have seen their brand equity implode overnight because they waited too many hours before responding.

To decrease your exposure to these potential problems, your policy should define an elected team of first responders that, at the minimum, include representation from senior leadership, marketing / PR, and human resources. You may also want to consider social media disaster drills and other tactics that can help you shorten response time and create an effective counter-campaign.

Training – The Key to Empowerment

Your social media efforts, policy, and goals will yield no fruit if your people are not trained and empowered to actually use these communication channels to help them do their jobs more effectively. This holds true from the top of the organization (i.e., the CEO or GM) all the way down to your front desk managers and back-of-house personnel as well.

Depending on the size of your organization and your unique challenges (e.g., employee turnover due to seasonality and other factors), training can take many different forms. It is critical that you commit to training and provide a continuous system of support.


The social web represents an incredible opportunity to help your organization be more effective and differentiate from the competition. You just need to focus on the activities that actually enhance your performance, not erode or endanger it.

Industry best practice would be to use a formal approach like the one outlined in this article, which is by no means complete and does not take into account the unique dimensions of your business. If you seek outside help from professional consultants, beware of snake oil marketers that may not actually know what they are doing any more than you do. The last thing you want is people experimenting on your dime with your brand.